Tag Archives: voiceover technique

More Mastery of Keywords for Voiceover Success

If you want to book voice over jobs, you need more than just a pretty voice.  Way more.  Acting chops.  Good timing.  Articulation (but not too much).  And an understanding of the voiceover script.  This tells the writer or producer that you GET IT.  How exactly will they “hear” that you “get” the script?  You tell them in each and every sentence by emphasizing the most important words.  How do you know what the most important words are?  (cue the ironic laugh here)  You cross your fingers, pay attention to what you’re reading, and learn a little bit of detective work here at Voiceover Gurus.  Today we’ll go over some possible strategies (and why there is no “exact” strategy) and we’ll also dissect a few scripts.  Ready to peel some voice over onions?  Let’s get started!

First, let’s talk about the “ish.”  There is no specific formula for understanding what the key words are in each sentence, and this is mostly due to the fact that none of these thousands of writers are following an exact formula themselves.  Writers are creative, which means they go by the beat of their own drum, or pen.  Or laptop.  But after casting, coaching, and analyzing my way through thousands of scripts, I’ve begun to compile a few tools for identifying keywords that amounts to a method…of sorts.  Method-ish.

One aspect to finding what is at the heart of the sentence is to determine what is good about the product….what the benefit is.  This aspect usually only applies to commercials, so I promise to cover aspects that are universal to other voiceover genres as well.  These keywords can be adjectives, point out an aspect of the product that is unique to the market, or perhaps even speak to a solution it provides to a common problem.  These are just a few of the possibilities to keep your eyes open for.  While you want to focus on as few keywords  as possible per sentence, there will be exceptions.  Sometimes writers are looking for drama.  This means emphasizing a few words that seem to drive home the point harder.  Another case will be when there are commas in the sentence (see the Traditional Medicinals example below).  Commas are essentially used as a pause, when a writer has a separate, but connected point to make.

One thing that is most likely NOT a keyword is the word “you” or “your” (with a very limited amount of exceptions.)  The reason for this is that most people who are listening to a commercial automatically know that they are the potential “you” that is being addressed.  But what they are really listening for is what’s IN IT FOR THEM.  That means you haven’t arrived at your keyword yet on an empty word like “you.”  Same thing goes for words that are repeated – by the nature of their repetition they are already being emphasized.  It also sounds awkward when you emphasize the same word twice in one sentence, almost as if the listener may be dumb and didn’t “get it” the first time.  Example:  “The phones you want, for whatever you want.”  Try reading it out loud emphasizing just the “you’s” or just the “want’s”.  It will sound absurd.  Now emphasize phones and whatever (the product and its benefit).  Better?  Let’s get back to more of those keywords we want to find….here’s a commercial script for Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat tea:

If, like us, you’re vocal about sustainability, you’ll like that we partner with rural Appalachian families who harvest limited amounts of slippery elm by hand to help, well, make you even more vocal.  Literally.  Plant power for a better you.  Traditional Medicinals.

So – we’ve got our work cut out for us here on this first monster sentence.  Several commas mean several individual points being made by the writer.  If there’s a stand-alone word then obviously it gets attention….you don’t really have to “punch” it or emphasize it in any special way since the pause after it that comes with acknowledging the comma will be sufficient enough to put it on its own platform.  After that you have a choice between the words like or us.  Given what comes after it I would choose us.  The first reason is that they’re clearly creating a connection between their company’s stance on sustainability with your own.  If you’re not convinced, I covered that as well on my second reason – I read it aloud and punched the word like instead.  It sounds as if you’re using it incorrectly, as if you’re talking about someone “liking” them.  It didn’t stand up when actually tested.  The best way to believe this is to record yourself.  It’s hard to hear yourself while you’re in the act of performing/being.  Next I would say the heart of the whole spot is here in the word sustainability, however I would also raise my inflection up higher on the word vocal, as it creates a leading sound….it creates expectation on the part of the listener.  It makes us perk up (thinking…vocal about what?!).  Next I would choose limited and by hand.  I think Appalachian families are important, and we’ll still hear it no matter what, but the exact execution of that sustainability they were promising comes in the form of the “limited” and “by hand” points they’re making.  The last point in that sentence comes in the word more.  It can’t be vocal, because we’ve already made that point.  It’s redundant.  As was just saying that.  The last line before the product is mentioned may break some rules.  It reads like a tag line, and that usually means they’re making their biggest, most memorable point.  The most impactful here if made to choose would be plant and better, because it sums things up in a concise cause and effect manner.  Let’s explore more possibilities with this ad for Naturtint:

Unlike most dyes, Naturtint’s ground-breaking formula brings maximum color and shine to your locks without harsh chemicals like ammonia and resorcinol.  Enriched with natural ingredients like non-GMO corn, oat, and soy, Naturtint provides strength and vitality to even the most damaged hair.  With 29 exclusive shades, what color will you choose?

First keyword here is most, as they are setting up a comparison.  Next would be Naturtint,  maximum, and without.  It obvious we are speaking about color and shine when we are speaking of hair dye, but THEIR dye brings out the MAXIMUM effect.  Same goes for the chemicals.  There are common chemical culprits in the world of hair dyes, and the benefit to using their dye is that you don’t have them(without!). I ignored empty promises like ground-breaking in favor of the RESULTS of that formula.  Same would go for the next sentence – I would favor the actual ingredients over the promise of “natural ingredients” – non-GMO corn, oat, and soy.  Then it would be strength, vitality, and perhaps damaged.  Lastly,  we have 29 and exclusive (every dye company offers shades), and then (rule breaker alert!) YOU.  The reason is that color is a given, as we know, and choices are obvious given the “29”, so by default you can assume they just want to draw the listener in and give them ownership of this possibility.

For one more example of keyword dissection, as well as an understanding of what else it takes to nail a voiceover performance, check this out:  http://www.voiceovergurus.com/guru_blog/?p=80

Voiceover ACTING Part 2

It’s called Voice Acting for a reason, so to continue writing about the best voiceover techniques, I’ll continue writing about the craft of acting. I’m still so chock full of Uta Hagen brilliance, so it’s gonna be Uta Uta Uta for at least this blog article and maybe a few more. I promise you won’t bore of her and her insight into acting.

Insight into acting, for Uta at least, but probably for many acting teachers, is really about the insight into human nature. On a personal level, if you are translating this information for yourself, the pursuit of acting truly begins with insight into yourself. Your character. Your emotions. Your body language. Your voice. Your behavior. Dig deep. As Uta might have said, this pursuit is about finding the essence of who you are and trusting it, respecting it, and working with IT, not putting on a mask. I see this every day with the actors I work with – they all want to be something they are not. They either believe acting is about being something totally different from what you already are (rather, think you are) or they too are subconsciously mistrusting their own selves and what they have to offer, and simply can’t accept that acting may involve their own actual and true selves. I can see the conundrum here perhaps – many actors are in pursuit of a new possibility for themselves, and therefore are trying to escape the very things they don’t like about themselves. But yes, the problem here is that most acting techniques will draw from the well of experience and therefore of developed character that already exist within. Perhaps the very crux then of acting, and therefore voiceover acting, is understanding and acceptance of oneself. Uta elaborates on this problem with self acceptance. She believes this need to stray completely from oneself, to put on a mask, comes from an inherent distrust in our own selves. She suggests that perhaps we all feel we are boring, and that only by becoming something else can we arouse interest from the audience. She uses the example of a cat to illustrate some possible hope in our own depth of character – a party of actors are in the midst of a dramatic moment onstage and yet the audience’s attention is laser-focused on a cat who is following a bit of blowing lint with its eyes. The cat is truly in the moment, and not following any prescribed notions of how to be or what to do. He is in a spontaneous, focused, and forward-moving situation with his attention. The cat is engaged, truly engaged, and therefore captures our attention in a way that the actors onstage who are predictably going through the scene cannot. Uta poses that we can learn from this cat to trust in our own spontaneity – that the only boring thing would be the mechanical execution of our “part”, not the real “us” in action.

For those of you trusting in your SELVES already, I’ve stumbled upon a new site for voiceover auditions and other information related to the voiceover universe at Behind The Voice Actors. I haven’t fully vetted it but I did notice an award given on the site to an excellent voice actor I knew when casting commercials in NYC –John DiMaggio. John now lives in LA, is constantly busy voicing projects such as Futurama, Adventure Time, and Penguins of Madagascar. Here’s to John, who most likely is bringing the best of HIMSELF to his voice work.

Voiceover Keyword Strategy – Finding the “Payoff”

I will gladly repeat this Voiceover Strategy concept till blue in the face – if you don’t understand what you’re saying on the deepest level (as deep as commercial copy can or will go!) then you are just READING. Remember when you wrote essays in school? Every time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard you had a point to make. You never wrote a single sentence without making a point. It’s kind of impossible, really. Look at the most basic sentence: Sally jumped. If, in the context of the story, you were already on the subject of this Sally gal and all her amazing abilities, then here the point is that she also knows how to jump. Your keyword is JUMPED. On the other hand, if you were talking about some of the other characters doing some jumping , then in this case your point is that now Sally did it. Keyword: Sally. Yes, so simple. But time and time again in voiceover training sessions I hear people reading. When I ask what they’re talking about it takes them way too long to answer. If they didn’t know right away, it meant they were reading. Announcing. Not understanding. It’s work, to identify what’s important in each sentence, especially since they’re someone else’s words. Today I will explain how to make the job of understanding your key words (aka the words to emphasize when you are conveying this information) a little bit easier. It starts with seeing the common link between the goal of most keywords, and the goal of most sentences….which is often the same thing.

We’re going to take a look at a bunch of commercials and break them down sentence by sentence, but first let’s take a look ….at what it is exactly we are looking for. As a voiceover coach, I take a look at commercial copy and instantly recognize the “sell.” I spent years in casting working with the advertising agencies and the production companies. I can recognize instantly what they’re trying to achieve now every time they create a commercial. Actually, let’s be safe and say 8 out of 10 ten times. The exceptions are those in which bragging about the product gets almost completely thrown out in the name of great comedy. But let’s work within the “more-often-than-not range as it is way more practical and you’ll get way more voiceover-audition bang for your buck. So, more often than not, the KEYWORDS in every sentence of a commercial voice over script will usually speak to the PAYOFF. To be more specific, the payoff is what is great about the product. It’s why YOU is not a keyword. Or WANT. As in: Sometimes you just want a great latte. The payoff here is great. But, great what? Great Latte. Great latte tells you what the reward is for getting this product and not someone else’s. YOU or WANT can’t do that. In most circumstances I will actually push for just the word great, but in this case it is the first line of the script and the concept of the latte hasn’t even been introduced yet, so it’s necessary. Either way, keep looking for the payoff in each sentence and you will have an easier time collecting your keywords. It’s not a hard fast rule, but like I said….more often than not. Let’s take a look at some scripts now and identify those keyword payoff hot spots.

Your journey is about staying ahead of the curve. Equal parts cruiser and sport-tourer, the Honda CTX1300 has a 1261cc V-4 that delivers endless torque for the city and top-end power and comfort for longer rides. Plus, it’s loaded with advanced features like available ABS, traction control, and Bluetooth audio. The CTX1300 is different for all the right reasons.

Ok, 1st sentence. What’s the payoff? Journey? No, you can take a journey in almost any vehicle. When you keep your brain on the payoff path, you will find it pretty quickly. It’s “ahead.” Curve might or might not need a bit of emphasis since that’s what “ahead” is describing, but to be concise with the payoff goal here, you hit on it with “ahead.” Other cars provide journeys and curves, but with this specific car you are AHEAD of the pack. You WIN with this one.

2nd sentence. Yikes. Do you start off at the top with “cruiser and sport-tourer”? Of course not. Now you’re getting the hang of this! Product name? Ok, a little bit, since it’s the first and only mention of it – but DO NOT get hung up on saying it too slowly, too loudly, or with any pausing before or after it. It is a mentionable in the middle of a natural conversation. So the payoff here is what it delivers, which also covers the beginning of the sentence we threw away importance-wise: Endless torque and top end power and comfort. Yes. Of course you want that right? In the next paragraph, emphasize your keywords as a voice actor with a writer’s mentality, which is to show, not tell. To tell would be to focus on the “loaded with advanced features” part. To SHOW would be to emphasize the actual features: ABS, traction control, Bluetooth audio. To SHOW is much more powerful. There’s support in it….evidence. Lastly, you focus on the word RIGHT. Different can be taken in a negative context in certain situations, reasons is empty with no other support words, but right is, well, right. When is RIGHT ever bad? Ok, ok, yes, when I’m trying to BE right in a “chat” with my husband. Moving on to the next VOICEOVER revelation.

Next script:

Introducing new Valspar Reserve interior and exterior paint with HydroChroma technology. Stain-resistant and fade-resistant. Now the colors you love stay the colors you love. Valspar Reserve. For whatever life throws at it.

Is introducing important? No, it’s a means to start talking. Is the product, Valspar Reserve important? Yes, but. Yes, you are mentioning it for the first time. But wait. We’ll get back to that. This sentence has a goal, and it’s to show you the payoff you get with this particular paint. Yes, it’s that HydroChroma technology, with the big bump on the HydroChroma, since they did capitalize it. Perhaps even trademarked it. The next sentence is perhaps the even more specific payoff/explanation for what HydroChroma does…..resists stains and fading. Emphasize STAIN-RESISTANT and then the word FADE, not that second resistant. They get it. Now let’s get back to the product name you have been itching to emphasize. It’s its own entire sentence this time. Nothing to compete with. Clearly, when the writer puts the product as its own sentence, they want it to be on a pedestal. Do it. Say it with pride and confidence, preferably in your lower inflection so you don’t sound like a cheesy car salesman. Finally we have the last sentence and I will say here the overwhelming word or me is WHATEVER. Funny word for payoff, but in context, it can withstand tomato sauce splatters, mud, WHATEVER. With the word whatever people get to fill in all the things that screw up their painted walls and see the problem vanish.

Here’s another:

Wrigley’s Extra Spearmint Gum. So refreshing it’s like your mouth’s on vacay.

Short but sweet. Perhaps catering to the younger crowd. The one that abbreviates words like vacation. That tells me instantly that the voiceover strategy or technique here is to cater to that crowd in a super cool but very casual way. Smile, smirk even, but keep it loose and conversational as opposed to overly bright and bubbl. I digress. We are here to talk keywords. Same rule here on the product as entire sentence line. It is all part of the product name so don’t throw away any of those 4 words, and say them as if this was the greatest and most important gum ever. Without raising your volume. Volume is one of the biggest voiceover mistakes around. People use it in replacement of all sorts of voiceover techniques like inflection or emphasis as a tool to express an emotion. Don’t cheat. Always see if there is a more authentic way to express that excitement, sarcasm, sincerity, or intelligence other than with volume – especially RAISING your volume. No one wants to be shouted at, unless they are listening to someone in danger or winning the lottery. Save your energy. Yes, digression. This second sentence is tricky. I’d go with REFRESHING and a slight hit on VACAY. They’re both positives, they’re both payoffs. They both make me want to get on a plane and go to a Caribbean island. Immediately. Now that’s good advertising.

A Powerful Voice for Voiceover

I recently had the pleasure of watching the talented voiceover actress (among other things) Annie Meisels at work in her next venture . . .public speaking. Annie has been a talented actress for decades and during my busiest times as a casting director for voice over auditions she was on my call sheet for many projects. Her broad range and spot on performances brought her back to the casting offices again and again. She consistently demonstrated a clear understanding of the exact tone and style that was needed for each individual script. Layering on to her already great command of the voice has brought her to develop her skills as a public speaking coach through A Powerful Voice. The crossover skills utilized between public speaking and voiceover are worth exploring here today and can enhance the voiceover skills you might already possess.

Let’s start with the connection between your body and your voice. We have gone over this before but Annie gets wonderfully specific. Yes, the rule of thumb is to make sure that your body and facial gestures are in line with the emotional tone of the script. Annie suggests using these physical gestures as a possible “cheat” as well, when you are having trouble connecting to the emotional “truth” of the message. Let’s say you are doing a spot for McDonald’s but you’re not so hot on their food. You know through either script analysis or writer’s direction that they want you to get excited, but you don’t “feel” it. Your tool for excitement on a physical scale would be arms up in the air. This will “get you there”, or at least get you closer, than you would have otherwise. On the same note, if you’re expected to convey a laid-back, casual response to something, try a shrug of the shoulders. If the read calls for sarcasm, roll those eyes. If the direction is “friendly” simply remember to smile. You’d be shocked at how many students I catch with a serious expression on their face while reading a friendly script. When people are concentrating, it can get forgotten! Just think about the times you or someone you know was conveying a message with a particular tone and how that translated in the body. The things we do in real life should never be eliminated from your voice over performance. Don’t sterilize your read, or it won’t give birth to a booking.

We then move on to some more technical options for adding more authenticity and dynamism to your read. Take a few sentences and practice finding the “keyword(s)” or point of the sentence. Once you’ve identified that, you can begin to highlight the point with one of a few techniques:

  • Slow / fast
  • High / low
  • Parenthesize or Emphasize a word

 

Take this sentence as an example:

I really love my bread-maker, but not when it’s time to clean it.

Your first choice would be to emphasize the contrasting points here through the slow/fast technique. At the risk of sounding obvious, you would speed up one half of the sentence and slow down the other half. Or vice versa, as far as order goes, depending on the message. Here, I would choose to speed up the first half, as that pace would go along sensibly with an upbeat positive tone. We are on the love part, so it makes sense. On the second half, a slow delivery would pair nicely with a dry and resigned attitude. Try it out loud for yourself, and reverse the order as well. Listen carefully and decide whether that resonates. Then whip out any book, newspaper, magazine that you have and try a couple more.

Your second choice addresses a choice of inflection, as stated here by the “high/low” phrasing. This requires a little bit of detective work first. You can only use your high and low inflections so much before it loses its power. Decide what the keywords are here and apply your choices of inflection to those words specifically – to highlight how you feel about them. In this case, I would go with the word “love” here, as if bread-maker was already the subject of conversation and in this instance you’re talking about your LOVE for it. This would be the place to use your higher inflection note. A high inflection expresses happiness and positivity. What you’re NOT happy about, however, is having to CLEAN it. Use your down inflection on the word clean to express your displeasure with that act. Done. Try it out loud. Reverse it. Decide for yourself.

 

Lastly, we have the emphasize/parenthesize technique. This falls in line with the detective work you just did earlier. What word or words do you want to pop? What words convey the key point of your message? Underline them, parenthesize them, put quotes around them . . .whatever you need to do to be mentally prepared to give those words a nudge when you come to them. To separate this technique from the high/low one, which also focuses on doing something only on the keywords is simple. Take those same keywords, of course, because they are your focus, and read the sentence one time just hitting those keywords with the exact same inflection choice. You will need to hyperfocus your intention a bit more here. So, hit the words LOVE and CLEAN both with a lower/down inflection. The difference is that when you used the down inflection before to convey loathing, you will now tweak intentionally to convey the opposite when you use it on the word LOVE. The intention is focusing on the fact that you truly enjoy your bread-maker, that it gives you so much pleasure. Find a way to feel THAT but by using your lower register. When we break inflection rules it is always fine as long as we are emotionally in touch with what we are expressing. Now reverse that and use only your high inflection on those two keywords. Here you will have to find a way to use your high inflection in a way that expresses displeasure on the word CLEAN. It can be done. Eventually, you will not have to get this conscious about your choices. It will come naturally. The understanding of the message will be there, and that will be your guide.

Another technique that cam certainly apply to voiceover as well as that of employing an “active” word when considering how you will perform the beginning, middle, or end of the script (or speech). This is common talk when discussing a voiceover script, as many people like to consider them all having a classic beginning, middle, and end. I don’t always believe that is the case, but I works as a “general” practice. Take the “beginning” and consider the feeling of the approach you get when reading it over in your head. Does it feel warm, playful, energized, etc? Let’s look at a few sentences now and the active words I would choose to apply to each:

Kinayzo introduces a smarter approach to organization. – I would say this is pretty informational, as it’s letting you know a new product on the market. My active word to apply as I approach this line, this beginning, would be “Introductory.” Basic, I know, but so is the sentence.

Prayma can make you feel safe, in a world full of dangers. – Here I would say it feels pretty comforting and warm. Those words work fine, or to combine them into one is would go with “reassuring.”

Pull back flap to vent . . . the point of no return. (The second sentence, for context, is “once you’ve exposed this frozen block of food to the world, you’re commited.”) It feels like the writer here was going for something very confiding and familiar, but there’s an edge of sarcasm to it. I’d go with “witty.” Hmm. Not a very active word though. How about “confiding.” To tell someone with wit how you feel about something frustrating means to trust them, to confide in them. The active word will not always be perfect, but it will make you more conscious of what you are doing, and allow you to transcend the fact that you are just reading someone else’s words off a piece of paper. But, this is half the voiceover battle anyway. Go activate.